Saturday 25 March 2017

'Leaving Europe will diminish us in world'

Cameron sounds warning on UK's future as he demands EU reforms

David Cameron delivers a speech on EU reform, at Chatham House in London
David Cameron delivers a speech on EU reform, at Chatham House in London
Angela Merkel: ‘Willingness to overcome obstacles’

Stephen Swinford and Peter Foster

Britain could lose its voice on the world stage if it votes to leave the European Union, David Cameron warned yesterday as he set out his demands for reform to Brussels.

The British Prime Minister promised to campaign "with all my heart and soul" for Britain to stay in a reformed EU after sending Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, a letter setting out his four key objectives.

He said in a speech at Chatham House in London that the referendum, due by the end of 2017, would be "perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes".

His objectives include protecting access to the single market, making the EU more competitive, bolstering the role of Parliament and seizing control of Britain's borders by tackling migrants who "abuse" freedom of movement.

However, he appeared to downgrade his manifesto commitment to ban EU migrants from claiming benefits for four years, describing it as a "proposal".

In the Commons, Mr Cameron faced accusations from Eurosceptic Conservative MPs that his reforms were "pretty thin gruel". Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs select committee, said: "After all that, is that it? Is that the sum total of the Government's position in the renegotiation?"

The European Commission warned that Mr Cameron's proposals to limit benefits were "highly problematic" and the head of the European Parliament suggested that they could be illegal. But, in a significant boost for Downing Street, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said that while some of the reforms were likely to prove "difficult", there was a "willingness to solve this".

Immigration

Mr Cameron warned that the pressures of migration on schools, hospitals and public services were "too great". He highlighted figures suggesting that by 2050, the country will be the most populous in Europe, and that immigration was "far higher than anything the EU's founding fathers ever envisaged".

However, he indicated that he was open to concessions on his most controversial measure: stripping EU migrants of in-work benefits for their first four years in the UK.

Mr Cameron also said he wants to ban people who "collude in sham marriages" from coming to the UK. He is also demanding stronger powers to deport foreign criminals.

The UK prime minister said he wanted a "legally binding and irreversible agreement" to end the obligation for Britain to work towards "ever-closer union". "That will mean that Britain can never be entangled in a political union against our will or be drawn into any kind of United States of Europe."

He said he wanted "clear and binding principles" to protect non-eurozone countries from "discrimination and disadvantage". He said British taxpayers should never have to fund operations to support the euro.

Mr Cameron said he wanted national parliaments to be able to "stop unwanted legislative proposals". He said the ambition should be "Europe where necessary, national where possible".

However, he infuriated Eurosceptic MPs by stopping short of demanding a veto for individual member states.

In one of the few unexpected measures, Mr Cameron suggested a German-style "constitutional court" could be introduced in Britain to ensure EU laws do not "overstep the mark".

Mr Cameron said that leaving the EU would pose a threat to national security. He sees the EU as a "tool" for Britain to influence international affairs. "If the British prime minister was no longer present at European summits, we would lose that voice and therefore permanently change our ability to get things done in the world."

Within minutes of the letter being sent, Martin Shulz, the President of the European Parliament, said he had "strong doubts" about the legality of the four-year ban on migrant benefits.

The European Commission said some measures were "highly problematic" as they "touch upon the fundamental freedoms of our internal market". Ms Merkel, however, called for "a solution-based approach to these demands". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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